The Buy-Back Program is committed to ensuring that landowners receive fair market value for their fractional land interests.

The Program determines the fair market value of Surface (S) and Both (B) fractionated tracts at each location. Surface (S) tracts have ownership rights only to the land surface of the tract, not to any minerals or other resources, such as oil, below ground. Both (B) tracts have rights to both the surface and minerals.

The fair market value appraisal is the primary foundation for individual offer amounts as required by the Cobell Settlement.

The Appraisal and Valuation Services Office – Land Buy-Back Program Valuation Division (AVSO) appraises each tract as if it were a single-owner fee status tract, and compares the tract to similar tracts that have sold in the area. Adjustments based upon market conditions, are made to account for differences between the tract being appraised and recent sales (e.g., the presence of water on grazing land for cattle could make a tract of land more desirable and therefore the tract may have a greater value). 

The Program utilizes the mass appraisal methodology, to determine market value for properties that are similar in use, have active and consistent markets, and have comparable sales data available. Mass appraisals allow for greater efficiency, high credibility, and consistency in valuations. Mass appraisals reduce implementation costs, expedite the appraisal process, and facilitate the greatest number of offers. The Program relies most heavily on mass appraisal valuation methodology, such as automated valuation models using statistical analysis, and project appraisal reports. 

The AVSO coordinates with Tribes throughout the appraisal process to incorporate local real estate knowledge. For example, the AVSO performs site visits, attends Tribal leader meetings, and invites Tribal staff to participate in mass modelling sessions.

After appraisals are complete, Tribes and landowners may request their appraisal reports from the Program. Tribes may request appraisal reports via written request submitted to their Senior Advisor – Tribal Relations, and landowners may call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 1-888-678-6836.

The Program’s valuation methodology and approach has been reviewed by The Appraisal Foundation (TAF), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that has been authorized by Congress to issue national appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications. In addition to its determination that the Department's Valuation Plan represents a methodologically sound approach to meeting the requirements of the Buy-Back Program, TAF also provided a set of recommendations to further strengthen the program. The Department responded to those recommendations and incorporated them into the Valuation Plan. In 2015, TAF reviewed the implementation of the Program's appraisal method (i.e., the working mass models). The final report contained the conclusions and recommendations regarding the appraisal services plan for providing Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP)-compliant appraisals relative to the Buy-Back Program.

The Program again coordinated with TAF in Fiscal Year 2019 to evaluating samples of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 mass appraisal models. This project was an independent evaluation and analysis of the applicability of USPAP Standards 5 and 6 and the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) standards relevant to the valuation of lands. TAF's recommendations were provided to the Program for further improvement and advancement of mass appraisals. 

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